“Like Shooting Nerds in a Barrel”: Exploiting the Fanboy Niche
by Kimberly Owczarski — Texas Christian University
January 31, 2012 – 00:00
A number of stereotypical characteristics that circulate in our culture about fanboys are foregrounded in this opening from a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. From Howard’s realization that he will get his sheets replaced by his mother that night to the jokes about the loser status that accompanies being in a comic book store, the show reinforces the idea that these men are abnormal, pathetic, and to be laughed at. In these exchanges, the repeated use of words emphasizing their lameness and the references to the lack of sex fanboys experience highlight the characters’ recognition of the stereotypes as well as how closely they fit them.
Perhaps nothing encapsulates that status better than Stuart’s admission to Amy that the covers of many comic books feature large-breasted women because “Most of the guys that come in here like big boobs. A couple of them have big boobs.” While Stuart makes fun of fanboys, he is clearly one himself. Yet, because Stuart owns the comic book shop, it puts him in a unique position: he can profit from the obsessive natures of his fellow fanboys through the sale of items they do not need.
His closing line of this scene highlights that he knows that Leonard, Howard, and Raj have been hooked by his declaration that he would be “robbing you of the hours of fun you could have for the magical, rootin’-tootin’ low price of $24.95” if he provided a guess. While Stuart is a recurring but minor character, this exchange places him at a slightly different level than the other fanboys we watch regularly on the show. He is someone who exploits his intimate knowledge of and participation in this niche.
Stuart is an excellent example of the balance between exploiting fanboys for profit and making fun of the niche’s particularities for the larger culture, given the high ratings for The Big Bang Theory both in prime-time and in syndication. Once derided as men who lived with their mothers and who exhibited poor social skills, recently fanboys have become more of a niche that points to profits for the studios. As the growth and popularity of Comic-Con can attest, hooking the fanboy audience early for a new film, television, or video game property is an essential part of the marketing process. Exploiting this niche has become an easy target for the studios, “like shooting nerds in a barrel.”